Plum powers past Indians in first round
With 11:44 remaining in the third period of Monday's PIHL Class AA first-round game between Plum and North Hills at the Pittsburgh Ice Arena in New Kensington, the Mustangs found themselves shorthanded.
Senior Andrew Pagano had just scored an insurance goal to give the hosts a 5-3 lead, but Plum had its back against the wall.
The Mustangs faced both 5-on-4 and 5-on-3 situations for a solid 4:05 stretch, and North Hills fired off 11 shots in that time frame.
However, the defense and senior goaltender Taylor Cestra stood tall.
The Indians were held off the scoreboard for the entire third period, and junior Joe Randazzo capped a 6-3 victory with an unassisted breakaway goal with a little more than two minutes left.
“At that point, we all realized that the game was on the line, and it was do or die,” coach Stonebraker said.
“One team was going home, and that's it. Those guys that were on that ice didn't want to lose that two-goal lead. If we did, it was going to be a blood bath to the end. Everyone who was on the ice during that penalty kill, whether it was 5 on 4 or 5 on 3, worked their tails off. They gave up their bodies and did whatever they had to do to get the puck out of the zone and keep the puck out of our net. Taylor stood on her head. We put ourselves in a hole, and we had to dig our way out.”
Plum was whistled for nine penalties in the game, including six in the third period. The Mustangs killed off the four-minute North Hills power play, as well as two other two-minute power plays in the third period.
In all, Plum shut down seven North Hills power-play chances.
North Hills outshot Plum, 48-25, and Cestra made 45 saves to pick up the win in goal.
“You have a senior goaltender doing what a senior goaltender should do,” coach Stonebraker said.
“That is not to take away from her performance. She was outstanding. When you have that senior leadership, you expect big things from them. We know she has that capability, and she stepped up in a big-game situation and made some great plays.”
With the win, the Mustangs advanced to the quarterfinals and a date with top seed Bishop Canevin on Wednesday. The game at the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center was to be played past the deadline for this week's edition.
Plum defeated North Hills for the second time this season.
The Mustangs also tripped up the Indians, 7-6, at the Penguins Pond on Jan. 10.
In that game, Plum rallied from a second-period deficit to record the victory.
On Monday, the Mustangs rallied from an early 1-0 deficit as Randazzo scored to tied the game late in the first period off an assist from T.J. Kelsesky.
The teams traded goals in the second period, as senior Andrew Walters and sophomore David Stonebraker each scored.
Randazzo assisted on both goals, while senior Jordan Gable added an assist.
With the game tied 3-3 late in the period, freshman Zach Nolan hit the ice and looked to make a play. He found the puck on his stick near the left circle, and he fluttered a shot that got past North Hills goaltender Max Sikorski.
The goal with 1:21 left in the second was Nolan's first career varsity goal, and the tally turned out to be the game winner.
“To get my first goal in a game like this was great,” Nolan said. “It was a weight off my shoulders, and the game was flying after that.”
“You look at things like that, and you think someone is just destined to get that goal,” coach Stonebraker said.
“A freshman call up this season in his first playoff game gets his first varsity goal, and it's a playoff game winner. I'm sure he will remember that goal for a long time. He's a big defenseman with a big reach. He's a smart player, and we expect three more years of good Nolan hockey for Plum.”
Monday's game was the final one at home for Cestra, Pagano, Walters, Gable and fellow seniors Todd Ruggiero, Zach Crawford, James D'Andrea, Derek Zgibor and Dom Macioce.
“You always want to put a stamp on your career, whatever that is,” coach Stonebraker said.
“It's a big senior class, and they will go out knowing that they won their last game at their home building, and that's something nobody can take away from them.”
Hampton edged Gateway, 4-3, in Monday's other first-round game.
Zachary Kosick tallied a hat trick for the Talbots and scored the game winner on the power play with about two minutes left.
Hampton, the No. 7 seed, will play second seed Latrobe on Thursday at 7:15 p.m. at Kirk S. Nevin Arena in Greensburg.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.